September 26, 2010

slow clothes



My clothes are disintegrating. Most are over ten years old. Moths have taken advantage of some of them as the clothes have hung on the line to dry. I’ve come to dislike shopping for clothes, even if I appreciate beautiful patterns, textures, cuts. I no longer get a consumer high if I buy a shirt from H+M. The last three years, I’ve bought almost no clothing (save bras and bathing suits) from big or corporate stores. But I’m finding it hard to find hand made, well crafted clothing that I like, even in DIY San Francisco. And I just would rather spend my money on a good cheese. But it is time to start replacing my beyond mending clothing. So my plan is to slowly build a long lasting wardrobe, one well crafted, ideally sustainably sourced/made garment at a time—one item a month.

Above is the first shirt I purchased under my slow clothing plan. The shoulder line isn’t flattering on me, but I really like the print, the red stripe down the back, the feel of the fabric and the company. Seems like the designer is thinking deeply about what she’s making and how it’s being produced—she’s a craftsperson.

Recently I read The Hidden Wound (1968–69 and afterword in 1988) by Wendell Berry, in which Berry writes a bit about craftspeople, though the book is primarily about race and community in the US. (Berry writes about his own experiences as a white boy growing up around black workers/friends on his family’s farm and about how those early experiences continue to inform his thinking about race relations and much more. The book sparks a lot of thought.) Here is the passage about craft:

The industrial laborer subserves an economic idea instituted in machines and in mechanized procedures. This is as far as possible from the work of the traditional craftsman or artist, whose making has never resembled what we now call “manufacture,” but is a cooperation and conversation of mind and body and idea and material. The true craftsman does not waste materials because his or her art involves respect for materials. And the craftsman’s products are not wasted because by their quality and durability they earn respect.
...
The great enemy of freedom is the alignment of political power with wealth. This alignment destroys the commonwealth—that is, the natural wealth of localities and the local economies of household, neighborhood, and community—and so destroys democracy, of which the commonwealth is the foundation and the practical means. This happens—it is happening—because the alignment of wealth and power permits economic value to overturn value of any other kind.

He goes on to mention what government could do to promote the improvement of communities and protection of the natural world. And since the government will not do what it takes—will not dissociate from corporate power—it will eventually come down to us to restore community life.

From reading the above bits, I think about how sitting in front of a computer all day at work (which, in the interest of full disclosure, for me is a place with altruistic intentions whose work is funded in large part by corporations) I miss that cooperation and conversation of mind and body and idea and material. My body tells me this regularly. It wants to move around more. My hands want to build and shape and fit, not just click. I think about how the powerful food industries block regulation and information that would (among other things) improve food safety, and about how most consumers only count the monetary cost of food (instead of also considering the toll of industrial ag on people and land ). I think about how as the climate crisis snowballs (bringing storms and food and water scarcity), we will be forced to rely on our communities, our local farmers. our craftspeople and friends. I think about how the erosion of our communities and the misuse of nature (through natural resources depletion, industrialism, pollution, “free” trade) is largely what brought on climate change in the first place.

So yeah, slow clothes in addition to slow food.

8 comments:

Maggie said...

you've probably already heard of Wardrobe Refashion, but the idea is to stop buying new (unless it is hand made) and refashion what you already have or op-shop finds, or make from scratch. Sounds like you've basically been doing this already.
http://nikkishell.typepad.com/wardroberefashion/

Di said...

I've been thinking about greener wardrobe options lately too. This link has some good tips for greener clothes shopping: http://planetgreen.discovery.com/go-green/wardrobe/wardrobe-organic-clothing-tips.html

I like your clothes buying plan. I also have a lot of things in my wardrobe that are also quite old, and some getting past mendability.
I find many of my newer mass produced garments are made from much thinner or poorer quality fabrics, which means they just don't last as long. Buying quality clothes (if you don't have the skills or time to make them yourself) may cost more, but in the long run I'm convinced it's more cost effective and can have other benefits too.

Genie said...

I have no understanding of not having any clothes. Not that I disagree at all with what you or Wendell Berry say - in fact, I totally agree. (Well, mainly...) But, buying recycled clothes has none of the negative impact and often provides needed resources to charitable organizations. I buy nearly all of my and my daughters clothes at thrift stores and yard sales. This is not only good for the environment but great for my pocket book. I can still look nice and have current styles and be recycled.

And, let's talk about hand made clothes. The fabric used to make those clothes probably has as negative an impact as mass produced clothes. I have no data to support that, but anything made out of primary production would have an impact. Even organic cotton has an impact - organic does not mean environment neutral. Any consumption done on the primary level impacts the environment and while supporting organic farmers is without a doubt a hugely positive aspect, it does not offset all of the rest.

Kerstin Svendsen said...

thanks for the links maggie and di.
genie. i hear you. i was hesitant to post this because i don't like buying new anything, aside from food (which is why my wardrobe is so pathetic). most of my clothes are from thrift stores. but lately i've become paranoid about sf thrift store cooties. it's probably an irrational fear.

Anne K. said...

I really enjoyed this post and all the comments as well. I just read Crispina ffrench's book on sewing with recycled sweaters - one of the best manuals I've read on this craft (OTOH, I was rather disappointed by the Betz White book.)Crispina even recommends sewing felted sweaters back together by hand -- it sounds so relaxing, rejuvenating, and so very creative! That's going to be on my list of things to do soon (and also to add to my podcast.)

Anonymous said...

If you do a look around etsy.com you will find a lot of nice ecofabulous and well made clothing. I have bought from several women who make quality products out of their home using fabrics ranging from hand dyed organic cotton to recycled materials. The products have been very good and best of all custom made for my body measurements.

Jenny said...

So fun to browse around the internet and find ideas, that I have in my head, already written down in a wonderful way. I no loger want to benefit big companies by bying their products. And I´m taking small steps toward a "long lasting wardrobe". I love to sew so I thougt why not make my hands useful and start making my own garments. Clothes made to be comfortable, strong and beautiful. One piece a month was a good idea, I will try that...
best wishes

Terrence Flendersen said...

I've been thinking about greener wardrobe options lately too. This link has some good tips for greener clothes shopping: hanging candle lanterns